Real Lives - Confident communicator

Thursday 12th of September 2019
apprenticeships awards plumbing scholarships

Proving that communication skills are as important as good workmanship in the plumbing trade, Masterlink apprentice Ben McCulloch is a star with customers.

Ben McCulloch says his plumbing apprenticeship has taught him many things, including how to deal with people. “I used to be quite shy and quiet, but it has made me more confident in myself and my skills.”

When Ben’s boss, Grant Jackson at Jackson Plumbing (Nelson), was looking for a new apprentice in 2015, Ben’s CV stood out among 40 applicants. “From the start, we noticed his calming influence in the work environment,” says Grant. “His happy nature and great manners make him a star with the customers and we constantly receive positive feedback.”

Ben McCulloch IMG 0499

Above: Masterlink apprentice Ben McCulloch, overall 2019 Plumbing World Scholarship winner, at his Nelson workplace.

Keen to get a qualification

A year earlier, Ben had moved to Nelson from Koromiko, near Picton, where he’d been working at his dad’s boat shop, for a workshop job at Haven PleasureBoats. Keen to get a qualification under his belt, he asked them for an apprenticeship but, to the company’s regret, the timing wasn’t right.

When he saw the Trade Me advert for a plumbing and drainlaying apprentice, he decided to apply. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he says, “but I had practical skills, having worked with tools, and I was keen to learn.”

Now nearing the end of his Masterlink apprenticeship, and about to sit his registration exams, Ben is glad he chose this career path. “I’d recommend it for the variety of work and the knowledge it gives you. Each day is different, there’s always a problem to solve and get to meet a lot of people. Plumbing teaches you to think logically about anything you do.”

Stepping up to the plate

Grant says Ben’s problem solving and time-keeping skills have been an asset to the company, which provides maintenance, renovation and new build services for the Nelson Tasman region. “One of our tradesmen had moved on and Ben stepped straight in and filled the void,” he says.

“During the past year, he has been in sole charge of the region’s Oceania Retirement Villages refurb project and has organised the entire project from start to finish without a hitch, with junior staff under him. He runs a very tight ship on the job.”

Working with a good team of people was a priority for Ben when he was job-hunting, and Jackson Plumbing (Nelson) fitted the bill. With Grant at the helm, Deb in the office and three field staff, it’s a small and friendly place to work. Ben works alongside Aaron, a qualified tradesperson, and fellow Masterlink apprentice Mike.

The firm always has one or two apprentices coming through and, being a member of Master Plumbers, Grant decided to give the Master Plumbers-owned Masterlink apprentice scheme a go. “Regional Manager Sam Timlin is very approachable,” says Ben. “I can call him about any issues or queries and he has my interests at heart.”

He also likes the fact that his Christchurch block course accommodation is sorted and paid for—“I just turn up and say my name”—and a mileage allowance provided for driving down there.

Ben on job 2

Above: Ben at work on  drain-cleaning job. He says he likes the variety of each day, whether it be core drilling, digger excavating, drain clearing, concrete cutting  or general plumbing.

Taking youngsters under his wing

Now 24, Ben is enjoying passing on some of his own knowledge to Gateway students from local colleges, who come to the company for work experience.

“He takes them under his wing and guides them through some of the simpler jobs to give them an idea of what a plumber does on a day-to-day basis,” says Grant. “Two of those students now have plumbing apprenticeships with local Nelson companies.”

Ask him what work he enjoys most, and Ben says there’s a plus side to every job—even drain clearing, as it means having a workmate along with you. And every challenge is something to learn from. The jobs always shared out, so they rarely do a whole day of the same thing.

“I am proud of the end product of some of the houses we have been involved with—but also the overall service we provide, from core drilling, digger excavating, drain clearing, concrete cutting and general plumbing,” says Ben.

His dependability, time-keeping skills, eye for detail and organised approach earned Ben the overall 2019 Plumbing World Scholarship, presented each year to five high-achieving Masterlink apprentices at the NZ Plumbing Awards.

 This blog has been adapted from an article in NZ Plumber magazine, Aug-Sep 2019 issue.